We got a lot of great suggestions when we asked readers to tell us their picks for the perfect pair of headphones last week. We also learned a lot. For example, you all know way more about this than I do.
Another thing I learned is that the kind of perfect headphones I'm looking for probably don't exist. I want ones that solve everything: ones I can wear at my desk or at the gym; that sound great, are wireless, super comfortable, with a built-in mic and controls to use on my phone.
It seems every suggestion we got required some sort of sacrifice: comfort for sound, sound for functionality, etc. That said, here are five of the ones most mentioned or "liked."
Audio Technica ATHM50s
The Audio Technica ATHM50s were the most often endorsed headphones in our comments. They run about $120 and are sold as "professional studio monitor" headphones for mixing. They're full-sized, over-the-ear cans with a coiled cord. The ATHM50s aren't totally flat-response headphones, which a lot of engineers prefer for mixing, so I'm not sure how good they'd be in an actual studio. One reader also notes that you'll look like an air traffic controller if you wear them around town, so they're not really designed for working out or talking on your phone. But most of the people who posted in the comments think the Audio Technicas have a superior sound.
These got the second most mentions and likes. The higher end models are probably more headphone than the casual listener needs or wants. (The Grado PS1000's run about $1,700 dollars.) But there are more moderately priced models, including the iGi's, which Grado calls its "knock-around headphones." People seem to think Grados have the best sound quality. But I saw a lot of complaints about poor comfort.
Koss Porta Pros
The Koss Porta Pros were tied with the Grados in the popularity contest. Most readers praised the Koss for supplying the best bang for your buck. They're only about $50 and, according to the comments, have a great bottom end and overall balanced sound, with no rustling in the cord. Multiple readers also said the Koss Porta Pros were super comfortable. They've got a switch above each ear piece that allows you to adjust the "comfort zone" so you can find just the right fit for you. They look a little clunky to me, but they do fold up and I'm encouraged by the reviews. I'll have to check these out.
This is by no means an official endorsement of any kind, but you'll actually see quite a few of these pairs around the NPR offices. They're very popular with radio DJs, and our own NPR Music Technical Director and engineer Kevin Wait uses these to monitor everything he does, from recording Tiny Desk concerts to mixing audio and webcasting live concerts. I think of them as the workhorse headphones. They're very sturdy, last forever and have a very clear, full-range sound. They're another over-the-ear headphone and have particularly good isolation. But again, they're not the kind of thing you're going to go jogging in.
For in-ear headphones you can actually wear while working out, there were multiple models of Etymotics mentioned. The MC5s were praised for having good isolation and great fidelity, and for staying in place. They're also reasonably priced, starting around $50. The Etymotics seem pretty durable, too. One user said they'd been using theirs for eight years, which is about eight times longer than I've ever used any single pair. If you're picky about the way in-ear buds fit, the Etymotics offer custom fits along with multiple kinds of ear tips. For a bit more money you can get the Etymotic HF3s to use with your iPod. They've got a built-in mic and solid controls.
Keep the suggestions coming. I've discovered several pairs I want to try out based on your comments.